Chile is the longest country in the world, but it is in not very large. To give you a general idea of the shape of Chile, think of a sausage. This country (not sausage) is situated on the west coast of South America. It’s in this country that we find the most arid desert in the world, and part of the ‘Cordillera de los Andes’, a long range of mountains. This is a Hispanic country, even though a few differences can be found to the Spanish in Spain. For example, they use the Italian farewell ‘ Tchao‘, and a few words are special to Chile and its culture. Chileans also rarely pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of a word, and have some words that have roots in precolumbian languages.
In Santiago, we went to a museum where they said that Chile had pretty poor land, but a very rich sea. Some of the people close to the sea still have roughly the same lifestyle than in precolumbian time, living of fishing. For some months of the year, they hunt the octopus in shallow waters, using a hooked rod to catch it. They then throw it on a rock and hit it with the rod till it dies, before stuffing it in a bag. But before being able to catch it, they must see it. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the octopus can camouflage by changing its colour. The fishermen spots the eyes of the octopus as they are in constant movement, whereas the body cannot be seen.
For the other part of the year, they fish the swordfish, using a barbed harpoon. They must use powerful rope, as they can cut through 8mm thick rope with a few thrusts of their ‘sword’.
Then we went up to San Pedro. During the journey, nothing very exciting happened, Mainly, we stayed hour after hour in the car, driving a few thousands of kilometres. We would get up in the morning, then drive till about 9 o’clock in the night. Find a place to sleep, and voila. But once we got to San Pedro, things changed. We found ourselves in the most arid desert in the world. We saw salt lakes, and with our incredible luck, saw a wonderful specimen of the desert fox, just on the side of the road. It observed us, ready to run at any sign of threat. But did it know we were observing it as closely, not out of fear, but rather out of curiosity and awe, marvelling at its beauty, and at the fact it had no water or food problems in the centre of such a desert? It must have been an expert at survival in this environment, or it would have surely died a long time ago. Our luck did not stop there. We got blocked in sand in the middle of that same desert. Where’s the luck in that??? Not only we lived a desert experience, but we had taken more water than usual, and we had tken everything we needed to occupy ourselves. That was one of the rare times we took our small backpacks for something else than a long journey.
And for the first time of my life, I sandboarded!!! We went in this place called the valley of death (not the most encouraging of names for a first try!). At first we didn’t go on the right dune, but then we finally made it to the right one. I got there first, and saw people sliding down at impressive speeds, and usually finishing with impressive falls! I got to the top with my old model sandboard, and had a try. But it would not slide! The sand would stop me, and I was lucky if I could advance 50cm! Why couldn’t I slide down like the others, riding on the sand at a fast pace, not riding through it, labouring for every centimetre? Then the answer came, in the form of my father, carrying the two candle sticks I had disregarded as superficial. I waxed the underside of my sandboard, before putting my bare feet in the straps and pushing my sandboard towards the slope. And suddenly… my sandboard whizzed off, easily equalling the speed of the others. Very fast, it went very fast, and even though a bump was coming, I gave up all hope of turning, not daring to try And… my sandboard met the bump, ejecting me and making me roll 1 or 2m lower, before I came to a stop. Luckily, the sand was pretty soft, and no injuries occurred. The second time, I dared to turn, and managed a slight turn, That nearly through me off balance. But still, the bump (which was a path to get to the top of the dune) came up to me and made me fall in the same manner. The third time, I managed a quarter turn, and stopped just before the bump, jumping off and landing on my feet. The next time, I didn’t wax it enough, so it didn’t slide. So I went back up, and waxed it more. This time I slid to the bottom, turning enough to avoid the bump. After that I went higher, and tried it from there. I slid down twice as fast, and fell through sheer speed. I went back to the same place, when a sandstorm brewed, pelting me with sand, forcing my eyes shut, even if I was facing away from it. It would pelt all unprotected parts, bringing stinging short lived pain. I had to put my sandboard behind my head, tucking my arms behind it. When I saw it wasn’t going to abate, I went lower on the slope to wax my sandboard. But to get on it, I had to get up to the top, and got pelted again. I tried it again, trying to slalom. But I slalomed too much, and would keep stopping, slowing down with my hand, by dragging it in the sand. Even with this irregular speed, I didn’t fall off and got to the bottom. This was more sportive than it seems, because for every 20 seconds of sliding, we had to go up the dune for 10 minutes. The sandboarding was extraordinarily fun, and not as dangerous as the skateboarding, even if we started from 10 or 20 times as high.
And that night, another surprise. We were in the middle of the most arid desert in the world… and it rained.
Filed under: Chili